Personal Essay
by Robert Johnson

I remember growing up in the middle of the crack epidemic. There were times as a child I had to get on the floor to avoid the bullets flying overhead. I felt the barrel of a gun placed to my head, while the robber ran my coat, hat, and shoes in the middle of a snowstorm. I used to find crack pipes around my house. I would turn up the T.V. to drown out my parents’ arguments. There were more than I could count, mostly over my father’s claims of gambling away his paycheck. I knew what the truth was, even the things they wouldn’t suspect me of knowing. As a child, I never felt safe. All my transformer’s and GI Joe men carried pistols and when I grew up I wanted to carry one too.

When I got older my friends started to die. There was a time I thought I would never live to see twenty-one. I remember my first burner. It was a .38 revolver. When I held it in my hand, I felt safe. For the first time, now I had the power. I named my pistol Trizzy and I used to carry it everywhere I went. I’d go to school just to show off what kind of firearm I was packing for the day. But after Rizz got stabbed and killed in school they installed metal detectors. After that, we had to stash our weapons around the premises and hope no one saw us.
Not long after that, I was arrested for possession of a firearm without a license. It was my first offense. I didn’t have a juvenile record, but because of the mandatory law, I still had to serve prison time. I was scared. I’d heard many tales about men getting raped and the C.O.’s beating inmates to death. But when I got there, I realized that I knew everybody. I saw dudes holding it down that I used to bully and I knew I as going to be straight. And now, instead of being a minority, I was part of the majority. I was offered jobs and was able to take courses like parenting and creative writing.

But mainly, I wasn’t on the street, so for the first time, since I could remember, I didn’t have to worry about my safety. All I needed to do to be respected was fight for myself with my fists and follow the inmate rules, but I could be pretty sure that I wasn’t going to get burned. In jail I had time to think, to learn, to find the person who I wanted to be, not the person that circumstances had made me become. This was the kind of freedom that I never had when I was free.


by Frantz Blass

She was born to me
the second the silent
tip of the pen signed
her certificate.
She honorably has carried
my last name from the start
of her existence.
When she’d cry, her tears
were my own.
Her blood pumps my blood.
Her innocence reaches me
like a native language
to a foreigner.
For since her birth,
I am the only father
she has ever known.
She sits at the edge
of the bed watching
her favorite T.V. show.
I pretend to sleep.
My eyes are only half-shut
to watch her.
I reach for physical traits
and gestures
to prove heredity.
History haunts me.
Put it to rest,
I think for this moment
with my child.
I feel her kiss
my bald head,
whispering, Daddy, wake up.


by George Dale

On this last day of school I was looking, feeling, and smelling great, had a dip in my hip, and a glide in my stride. I was submerged in this life I chose, not fully aware of where it would lead me. As a gambling man might say, “I’m all in.” The ripple effect had begun.

As I walked down Ziglers Street toward Dudley Station, the Temptations wafted out of someone’s window. “Ball of Confusion”. On cue, I fell right into step with them. From where the music was coming, a fine-ass sister said, “Get down, Bro.” So I added a little James Brown, pivot into a bow, thanked her, and ask her her name and number all in a New York second!

“Nellie,” she said. Nellie Washington was her name. I didn’t know her per-say, but her brother sold coke with his fairy-ass-self. But Booker, her father, he was a horse of a different color. A washed-up stick-up kid, holding onto his reputation by riding around in a ’65 Caddy collecting protection money for the Campbell brothers. That was what the word was on the street.

Mil, Frankie, and Ray-Ray exchanged pounds and “what’s happenings.” I asked Mil which way they were heading and he said, Watertown. It was two o’clock then.
“It’s kind of late, you’ll be fighting traffic all the way.”
Frankie said, it’s cool, and that there were a couple of new joints having grand openings.”
I said, “I hear that.”

Ray-Ray just laughed, asking where I got them green lizards from? Mil started to laugh at me cause he knew I had small feet. I wore size five, but no one made reptiles that small so I had to get at least size seven, use inner soles, and stuff paper in the toes. We all started to roll, I said, “Fuck you, Mil.” He moved like Ali, throwing, shuffling, smiling, while saying, “You know you’re my main man, Money Grip.”

As usual, they were laid-out to the Tee! Milton was wearing a white-knitted shirt, monogrammed with MT on the collars, khaki brown slacks with tied-up brown gators. Frankie had on a rainbow colored bly unbuttoned with a white tank-top underneath, off-white trousers, and blue turtle kicks. Ray had on an all light-blue outfit, with some navy suede shoes. So as they stepped toward a rented Grenada, I said, “Later.”

Officially, it wasn’t summer yet, but it was the last day of school and Dudley Station was the spot to be. Broads from every part of the city were there and I was about to come up, but there was one in particular I wanted to see. Lindy Christmas, but everyone called her Lucky. I was affected by her in a way I couldn’t understand. If looks were a crime she would be “Forever.” I’d heard that Lucky’s mom was a top shelf ho and she was a trick baby. Lucky had a honey-toned complexion and short, curly, black hair. Funny type color eyes that made you feel they looked right through you. We always greeted each other with the utmost respect.
Just about then, all I could see were lips moving, but heard the screech of the elevated Orange Line Train pulling into the station, sounding as if it were Godzilla in another death match with Rodan!

I stepped in front of the Clock Tavern as Scottie the Detective came out. I said, “Nice day, Officer.” As usual, he said, “Go fuck yourself.” The Clock was where all the black officers hung out. As long as they were off you could go in there and sell hot shit. I kept walking, laughing at Scottie’s response. He wasn’t a bad cop or an asshole, he just said some crazy shit at times.

The Washington bus was pulling into the station and I saw Eddie, Jo-Jo, and Brown. Eddie owed me a dub, but I doubted if he was holding my ins. I didn’t want to have to get on his ass for twenty dollars. Just then I heard, “Grip.” Someone was calling me from inside Spinnelly’s. It was CJ.

CJ was a little older than I, but as long as I could remember he was the best-dressed bro in Boston. Everyday, we’d be saying, “You see what Charlie was wearing?” And no one had to ask, “Which Charlie?”
On this particular day he was playing like he was Arthur Ashe. All white tennis outfit trimmed in red with his initials on both collars, racket and bag hanging on his shoulder. We had always been cool and cordial to each other, but never had, nor did any type of business together, so I was on point for the bullshit. He opened the tennis bag and showed me some swag: silk ties, shirts, and some ascots. CJ motioned to me to come near and said, “Give me half a note.”
I said, “Forty cents.”
“Fifty,” was all that was said, so I just stepped saying “Easy, Chuck.”
Every school was represented there. It was standing room only, but I was looking for that one person and I hadn’t seen her yet. Just then, at the corner of my peripheral, Red Head Windy came into view. She was Lucky’s sidekick. As she turned right, coming right towards me, I rounded so that my back was facing her.
My mackin’ was going to be by proxy, whether Windy was down or not! As she stepped closer I could hear her high-pitched voice. Turning on a dime, I was eye-level with her breasts. Immediately, my eyes reached hers and we exchanged greetings as Windy came to a provocative stance in front of me with her girlfriends at her back!
All eyes were on me as introductions were made. Red started with Chloe. I had seen her around. She said, “Hi,” with a mild voice and bright-ass smile. Next was Sandy. We had known each other for years and were “Kool and the Gang.”
“What’s up, Grip?”
“Nothing but the rent.”
“I heard that.”
Leslie was the stuck-up type broad. We just looked hard at one another. Windy cut to the chase, sensing the tension. “Have you seen my girl?” she said.
I played like Mickey the Dunce.
Red wasn’t buying what I was selling. “Grip, you need to stop the bullshit and come on with the come on.”
“No, I have not seen Lucky! But since you brought her up, I would like to kick a little something-something to her!”
“Please, my brother, spare me. Every dude in the city at my girl. You know she’s not with any of these dudes that are hustlers, players, or whatever they’re calling themselves!”
“But, Red- ”
“Red, my ass,” she said. “We been knowing each other since we were in our PJ’s. You’re cool as a fan, but I know you.” We all started to laugh.
“Ok, if I see Lucky, where are you going to be at?” I said.
“We’ll be at Freddie Parker’s.”


Raw Footage
Excerpt from a Novel by
Maurice Lyons

More than two thousand people filled the church’s main sanctuary. The hallway was crowded too. Dudes who normally didn’t wear suits wore them on this day. And the females were dressed like they were going to the hottest club on a Saturday night, pumps and skinny jeans, and strapless dresses that stopped above the knees. Half of them cried, hugging each other, half of them stared at one another, mean-mugging, blaming everybody else but the right person.

There were groups that wore white-tees brandishing the face of a fallen soldier. Others wore buttons on shirts and hats with the same face, on them, while the younger crowd took it to the extreme with air-brushed Dicke suits, turning themselves into walking billboards. They had all come out to see this person who was clearly loved by so many. Small conversations of, “How did it happen?” “Where’s his babies mothers?” “And who just seen him last?” all echoed through the church. And the majority of the congregation skimmed through the color and black and white obituaries from beginning to end. Then the choir began accompanying the soloist who sang “His Eyes Are On the Sparrow.” Loud cries of, “Not my baby!” and “Why him?” came from the first four rows in the middle aisle, and made people cry more.

The preacher stood at the pulpit wearing a full-length black robe. “Everybody but the family please stand and let’s pray,” he began. “In the name of Jesus who watches over us day in and day out, guide us as a whole on this day of mourning.” He continued and got deeper in prayer as his rhythm matched the organist. “Let everybody say Amen,” he said ending the prayer. Bowed heads rose as the preacher overlooked the congregation. The preacher, who’d known him since he was a kid, began the eulogy. “Here lies a child of God who had it all, but fell victim to the Devil’s works, who could have been anything he wanted to be if he put his mind to it.” It only took him twenty minutes to describe who he was and what he could’ve been. When the preacher was done, he wiped the white creamy mucus that rested in the corners of his mouth with a bright white handkerchief.

“Yes lord!” “Preach preacher,” and “Amen,” came from all the holy rollers in the building. “In my closing,” the preacher said, staring at the dudes in the church “revenge isn’t the answer. Y’all need to get right with Jesus,” he said. Then he motioned for the funeral director.

The director was a small man wearing an all black suit and wing tip shoes. He had receding salt and pepper hair. He’d pinned a white carnation by his matching handkerchief. He removed the spray of red roses from the coffin top and took a key out of his suit jacket. He inserted the key in the hole, turned it clockwise and opened the full-length lid. He folded back the pearly white cover from the body as the family looked on.

Ramello was late. All he could see was the raised lid. So he joined the back of the line, listening to females yell and dudes curse with no church etiquette. “Look at him, look at him,” two females said, bawling over the body. Ramello stood right behind them and looked on. The dead man’s wife observed the situation and didn’t try to disguise her anger. Before it could get ugly, the ushers, dressed all in white, got wind, and escorted the females away.

Ramello’s feet felt stuck to the ground. He could see the man’s nose and the tips of his black shoes. Finally, he took one step and another, then took off his Dolce & Gabbana shades and looked down. The man had the same Gucci suit as his and the loafers were Gucci like his too. His hands were crossed on his chest and on the back of his left one was the tattoo R8T, the same tattoo as Ramello’s. That was when Ramello looked at the dead man’s face and found he was looking at his own.


by Joshua Silver

The euphoria is nothing
Next to the terror
Of watching the battery acid
Eat through his arm.

Fucked up thing to do
To a junkie
Just trying to get straight.

Just as wrong
As throwing the brick
That split him
From ear to eyebrow.

Twenty-seven stitches it takes
To close that gap.
But he recovers
And still he knows the game.

The people
He takes from
Want him to

So he is a patchwork
Of skin grafts.
To behold.

I wonder if
He will continue
To die
Piece by piece.

Author, Peggy Rambach, runs creative writing workshops in community education settings for the Healing Arts in health care, correctional facilities, ESL programs and immigrant support centers as well as offering assistance with lesson plans in professional development presentations for middle and high school teachers. She teaches memoir writing in medical schools as part of the curriculum in Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities. Ms. Rambach is conveniently located for teachers, students and participants from throughout New England including the Vermont (VT) cities of Bennington, Burlington and Montpelier, the Maine (ME) cities of Portland, Gardener, Kennebunkport and York, the New Hampshire (NH) cities of Portsmouth, Concord, Manchester, Dover, Nashua and Rochester, the Massachusetts (MA) cities of Boston, Newburyport, Amherst, North Hampton, Salem, Beverly, Lawrence, Lowell, Haverhill, Gloucester, Plymouth, New Bedford, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, Rockport, Hyannis, and Falmouth, the Rhode Island (RI) cities of Providence and Newport and the Connecticut (CT) cities of New Haven and Hartford.